The Morning After!

For the second ranking event in succession John Higgins have been involved in an epic semi-final encounter but this time he has emerged the winner after holding himself together brilliantly in the deciding frame tonight against Ronnie O’Sullivan. Click below for my thoughts on both this match and tomorrow’s final…

Where else to start but with the controversial incident in frame thirteen which appeared to be a significant turning point in the match, even though John Higgins has asserted that it was not this that caused him to struggle.

As Dvwj has said in response to my earlier post on the match, what happened was:

“In frame 13, O’Sullivan potted a red, and ran a bit too far, snookering himself on all colours. Having missed three attempts on the brown, and then three on the yellow, he went to have a 7th try, but his hand on the black that was hampering him. There was then some confusion as to whether Higgins could put O’Sullivan back in, with Jan Verhaas seeming to take advice from both players! When it was eventually decided that Higgins would have to play, Verhaas moved the balls, as the white was no longer touching a red.”

A strange situation then and one that I can’t ever remember coming across before.

First things first, I do not think that O’Sullivan intentionally touched the black or looked to cheat in any way. I cannot claim to know the man personally but based on repeat viewings of the incident and my feeling on what happened, it just looked to be one of those things. Indeed had he wanted to do that then surely he would have done it sooner than on his seventh attempt in order to keep the amount of penalty points to a minimum!

Was referee Jan Verhaas right in calling a foul and forcing John to play on that position? I am far from being someone who knows the snooker rulebook inside out but it looks to me like he was. A shot had not been played as such by O’Sullivan on this particular occasion and so Verhaas could not have called a miss.

As was the case following the the incident involving Alan Chamberlain at the World Championship this year during the match between Mark Selby and Graeme Dott, people will argue that he should be allowed to use his discretion but the rules are as they are and Jan cannot be faulted for following them.

That said, the action that I was not so sure about came when after calling the foul and asking John to play on from where the balls were, he then replaced the balls because the red previously touching the white had just moved slightly. I am not sure on the position on this according to the rulebook but was the referee right to do this even though in theory at least, another turn had been taken after the balls had initially been replaced? Was it too late for Verhaas to put the balls back? I am simply unsure on that point one way or the other. I believe that if a red is hanging over a pocket and at some point drops in then he is allowed to replace it, perhaps the same principle applies?

Whatever the case may be, it is evident that a loophole exists within the current rules and it is one that will need to be plugged in order to prevent the possibility of it being abused in the future.

Moving away from that incident, what a match it was as Higgins surged into that 6-2 first session lead despite Ronnie making two century breaks and ending it with a pot success rate of 92%. John’s safety play, particularly early on in the match however was outstanding and his perseverance in frame five in particular ultimately proved to be the difference.

But you have to give Ronnie O’Sullivan full credit for coming back into it and having the belief to pursue what many would have seen as a lost cause. Even though he could not pull off the win, he certainly proved again tonight that he can fight when he has to.

What a break of 56 we saw from Higgins in the deciding frame following Ronnie’s overcut pink however. I cannot imagine that you will ever see a break of 56 that good under those circumstances again. His cue ball control was far from perfect but in went the balls, (notably a superb black at full stretch), and he somehow just about got over the line. 13-12 against Jamie Cope, 13-12 against Mark Selby and 9-8 against Ronnie O’Sullivan – it has been that kind of year for him.

So how will this affect him going into tomorrow? It is tempting to say that he will not be able to recover mentally from the events of tonight and that Ding having had a day off will be that much better prepared, but quite frankly I thought the same earlier on in the year at the World Championship and he certainly proved me wrong with a terrific display against Shaun Murphy in the final. Also as he has said this evening:

“I will be fine for the final tomorrow, because even though it was 9-8, it was free-flowing. Ding is back playing the way he can so it will be difficult. He’s started the season well so it will be a mammoth game.”

Despite the fact that there were nine frames played this evening, the session was concluded before 10pm and with a 7-2 head to head advantage over Ding, including a win here in Telford last year, John probably goes into tomorrow’s final as the favourite.

Let’s just hope that the match is half as good as this one…